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AGAR: Politics in pandemic to cancel cars – Toronto Sun

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The pandemic is hard enough on all of us without politicians using it to their advantage to push a political agenda.

Toronto Councillors Brad Bradford and Jennifer McKelvie plan to bring a motion to the TTC Wednesday to ban cars and other non-TTC vehicles from curb lanes on five busy corridors in the city.

The CBC reports, “Where these communities have some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections, it can be challenging to get around in a safe manner and the TTC needs to respond to those concerns and do it in a timely fashion,” Bradford said.

“Providing bus priority transit lanes is certainly going to help with that effort.”

How does once again pushing back against cars in the city help anyone with the pandemic?

The last thing the city needs right now is more buses on the streets. No one is riding the buses we do have.

In late May, the TTC laid off 445 workers as part of a plan to possibly reduce employment by 1,200 workers due to a dramatic loss in ridership costing $90 million a month in lost revenue.

Only a politician says, when losing 90% of their business, “Let’s do more.”

Social distancing on buses would not seem to be a huge problem at the moment, so anyone using the TTC is already accommodated.

Of course, pushing cars off the road is a long-time dream of some in the city and COVID-19 has nothing to do with it, so in their minds apparently ramping up the bus service and taking away lanes makes political, not business, sense.

According to Statistics Canada, 23.3% of commuters in Toronto (this is pre pandemic) use public transit to get to work.

Toronto has more workers living outside the city core than any other Canadian city, at about 75%.

Cars are a huge part of the commuting mix and trucks moving goods are essential to the well-being of the city. Automobiles are not the second-class citizens of the traffic world.

The move to add bus lanes comes only weeks after the city put the hurry-up on adding bike lanes to accommodate the least-used form of travel to work.

Many people, including the TTC, worry that even as we open the economy back up people will not rush to use transit.

Some will have no choice if they can’t afford a taxi or Uber every day and if they don’t own a car.

But for those who can, and that will include many people who previously used transit, they will likely be in cars, the safest bubble they can be in while travelling.

There is a chance that after months of working from home many workers and businesses may opt for a model that sees fewer people commuting post pandemic than before. That won’t help the TTC recover the money they have been hemorrhaging but it will reduce gridlock.

As such, increased bus service might not be needed at all for a while.

We could wait and see, but that sort of planning is not conducive to agenda pushing.

So in both the case of increased bike lanes and bus rights of way, politicians are operating from the principal of never letting a good crisis go to waste.

Is that responsible leadership?

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Trump may have won the political battle. But he lost the constitutional one. – The Washington Post

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But as a matter of constitutional law, the court’s rulings represent significant and justified constraints on the authority not only of this president, but also his successors.

First, the court made clear that no president is above the law when it comes to criminal subpoenas for private information: State prosecutors are entitled to such subpoenas and don’t have to prove greater need when they seek a president’s records than they do for anyone else. Second, the court held that Congress has the authority to subpoena a president’s records, even as it put limits on lawmakers’ ability to do so.

It’s the second ruling that has greatest significance for future occupants of the Oval Office. Remarkably, this was the first time the high court considered whether Congress can compel presidents to produce records. As Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. explained, such demands typically are resolved in bruising battles between the branches.

“Congress and the president maintained this tradition of negotiation and compromise — without the involvement of this court — until the present dispute. Indeed, from President Washington until now, we have never considered a dispute over a congressional subpoena for the president’s records.”

This push and pull ended in the Trump presidency. The White House has simply refused to comply with congressional oversight requests or subpoenas, even in the case of impeachment. White House lawyers claim executive privilege allows not just the president but all White House aides, officials scattered throughout the executive branch and even private citizens to refuse to appear.

Until now, judges held back. During Watergate, a federal court refused to force President Richard Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes to the Senate. In another major case, a court ordered George W. Bush’s White House counsel, Harriet Miers, to testify about the politically motivated firing of seven U.S. attorneys, but also ruled she could refuse to answer specific questions. Trump stonewalled so vigorously that the high court felt it had to get involved — a legal backfire of potentially historic dimensions.

Under the new ruling, the House of Representatives will have to show the appeals court that this request for documents meets four newly established tests to ensure that the request is narrow and legitimate. Good lawyering should make that goal easy to meet.

The ruling does leave one cloud. Previous court rulings had held that Congress lacks the power to probe just to embarrass individuals; it needs a legitimate legislative purpose.

Investigations of wrongdoing — real or alleged — have been essential throughout U.S. history. Hundreds of officials over the decades have squirmed under TV lights and been forced to produce documents, sometimes revealing crimes and squalid misconduct. This has resulted in landmark statutes, from campaign finance reform to government ethics measures. Still, some inquests — think Teapot Dome, Watergate, or Iran contra — have been more noteworthy because they exposed wrongdoing to the public rather than any laws they produced.

Will this ruling serve as a charter for strong oversight? Or will it mischievously limit it, so that future White Houses can duck accountability? That will be up to future courts, who have now put themselves in the center of these disputes.

There are other ways to strengthen checks and balances. For starters, Congress will need to find ways to use the power of the purse to compel cooperation. Lawmakers also have the power to hold witnesses in contempt and even to seek prison time if they refuse to testify. The notion of a jail cell in the basement of the Capitol appears, alas, to be an urban myth. Perhaps one should be created.

There may also be a need for a clear statute to govern executive branch testimony. More than a decade ago, the Brennan Center proposed a new law to authorize executive privilege but limit its use and give Congress the power to compel testimony. It’s time to take such proposals more seriously.

Ultimately, much of the answer will come in the conduct of president and Congress. Investigators will need to curb their appetites for frivolous and harassing investigations. Presidents will have to decide whether to fight for every inch of advantage, or acknowledge Congress’ role, no matter how infuriating that may seem.

For now, Congress has new weight behind its constitutional authority. When they negotiate, lawmakers now know that, sooner or later the Supreme Court has said it would be willing to step in. That alone can help reset the balance between the two branches at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

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Government watchdog: Politics caused ‘Sharpiegate’ frantic rebuke – USA TODAY

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Political pressure from the White House and a series of “crazy in the middle of the night” texts, emails and phone calls caused top federal weather officials to wrongly admonish a weather office for a tweet that contradicted President Donald Trump about Hurricane Dorian in 2019, an inspector general report found.

Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson concluded in a report issued Thursday that the statement chastising the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, could undercut public trust in weather warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and for a short time even hindered public safety. Agency officials downplayed and disputed the findings.

“Instead of focusing on NOAA’s successful hurricane forecast, the Department unnecessarily rebuked NWS forecasters for issuing a public safety message about Hurricane Dorian in response to public inquiries–that is, for doing their jobs,” the report concluded.

Former Obama NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, a scientist at Oregon State University, said in an email that high level officials “put politics and their own jobs above public safety. In my view, this is shameful, irresponsible, and unethical.”

Hurricane Dorian: Emails show weather service’s angst, anger over Trump’s ‘doctored’ hurricane map

At issue was a Sept. 1 tweet from the Birmingham weather office that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The tweet came out 10 minutes after Trump had tweeted that Alabama was among states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Forecasters in Alabama said they didn’t know about the president’s tweet, which was based on outdated information, and that they were instead responding to calls from a worried public.

By the time the two tweets were posted, Alabama was no longer in the hurricane center’s warning cone, although it had been in previous days. One hurricane center graphic at the time showed a “non-zero” chance of tropical storm force winds for a tiny corner of Alabama, something NOAA officials later scurried to highlight, according to the report.

However, NOAA acting chief Neil Jacobs told the inspector general’s office that the day of the president’s tweet he was baffled by Trump’s reference to Alabama: “(T)hat was the first time when I was wondering why are we still talking about Alabama, you know?”

The dustup came to be referred to as “Sharpiegate” after the president later displayed a National Hurricane Center warning map that had been altered with a black marker to include Alabama in the potential path of the storm. The president is known for his use of Sharpies.

Four days after the tweets, then acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross an email after 9 p.m., saying “it appears as if the NWS intentionally contradicted the president. And we need to know why. He wants either a correction or an explanation or both.”

That triggered a series of texts, emails and phone calls involving Ross underlings, especially Department of Commerce Chief of Staff Michael J. Walsh Jr. from 1 a.m. to 3:43 a.m., laying the groundwork for a NOAA statement that came out the next day.

Jacobs said “things went crazy in the middle of the night.”

Then-NOAA communications chief Julie Kay Roberts told the inspector general’s office that Walsh told her “there are jobs on the line. It could be the forecast office in Birmingham. Or it could be someone higher than that. And the higher is less palatable.”

Walsh denied that to the inspector general. The report said there was no credible evidence found to say that jobs were threatened. However, Jacobs told the inspector general’s office he “definitely felt like our jobs were on the line” but that “nobody told me I was going to get fired.”

The eventual unsigned statement from NOAA said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Dorian made landfall in North Carolina and had no major impact on Alabama, which is about 600 miles away.

“By requiring NOAA to issue an unattributed statement related to a then-5-day-old tweet, while an active hurricane continued to exist off the east coast of the United States, the Department displayed poor judgment in exercising its authority over NOAA,” the inspector general report said

The report also criticized Roberts for deleting text messages, which is contrary to government document retention rules.

In a statement attached to the report, Walsh said the report’s conclusions “are completely unsupported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report lays out. The Inspector General instead selectively quotes from interviews, takes facts out of context.”

The White House declined comment. The Department of Commerce attached a letter to the report saying the report doesn’t dispute the accuracy of the Sept. 6 statement that criticized the Birmingham office nor does it find that the agency suppressed scientific communication.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said she could not support Jacobs’ nomination to be the full-time, no longer acting, chief of NOAA, saying the report shows Jacobs “failed to protect scientists from political influence.”

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Govt Watchdog: Politics Caused 'Sharpiegate' Frantic Rebuke – The New York Times

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Political pressure from the White House and a series of “crazy in the middle of the night” texts, emails and phone calls caused top federal weather officials to wrongly admonish a weather office for a tweet that contradicted President Trump about Hurricane Dorian in 2019, an inspector general report found.

Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson concluded in a report issued Thursday that the statement chastising the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, could undercut public trust in weather warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and for a short time even hindered public safety. Agency officials downplayed and disputed the findings.

“Instead of focusing on NOAA’s successful hurricane forecast, the Department unnecessarily rebuked NWS forecasters for issuing a public safety message about Hurricane Dorian in response to public inquiries—that is, for doing their jobs,” the report concluded.

Former Obama NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, a scientist at Oregon State University, said in an email that high level officials “put politics and their own jobs above public safety. In my view, this is shameful, irresponsible, and unethical.”

At issue was a Sept. 1 tweet from the Birmingham weather office that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The tweet came out 10 minutes after President Donald Trump had tweeted that Alabama was among states that “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Forecasters in Alabama said they didn’t know about the president’s tweet, which was based on outdated information, and that they were instead responding to calls from a worried public.

By the time the two tweets were posted, Alabama was no longer in the hurricane center’s warning cone, although it had been in previous days. One hurricane center graphic at the time showed a “non-zero” chance of tropical storm force winds for a tiny corner of Alabama, something NOAA officials later scurried to highlight, according to the report.

However, NOAA acting chief Neil Jacobs told the inspector general’s office that the day of the president’s tweet he was baffled by Trump’s reference to Alabama: “(T)hat was the first time when I was wondering why are we still talking about Alabama, you know?”

The dustup came to be referred to as “Sharpiegate” after the president later displayed a National Hurricane Center warning map that had been altered with a black marker to include Alabama in the potential path of the storm. The president is known for his use of Sharpies.

Four days after the tweets, then acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sent Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross an email after 9 p.m., saying “it appears as if the NWS intentionally contradicted the president. And we need to know why. He wants either a correction or an explanation or both.”

That triggered a series of texts, emails and phone calls involving Ross underlings, especially Department of Commerce Chief of Staff Michael J. Walsh Jr. from 1 a.m. to 3:43 a.m., laying the groundwork for a NOAA statement that came out the next day.

Jacobs said “things went crazy in the middle of the night.”

Then-NOAA communications chief Julie Kay Roberts told the inspector general’s office that Walsh told her “there are jobs on the line. It could be the forecast office in Birmingham. Or it could be someone higher than that. And the higher is less palatable.”

Walsh denied that to the inspector general. The report said there was no credible evidence found to say that jobs were threatened. However, Jacobs told the inspector general’s office he “definitely felt like our jobs were on the line” but that “nobody told me I was going to get fired.”

The eventual unsigned statement from NOAA said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Dorian made landfall in North Carolina and had no major impact on Alabama, which is about 600 miles away.

“By requiring NOAA to issue an unattributed statement related to a then-5-day-old tweet, while an active hurricane continued to exist off the east coast of the United States, the Department displayed poor judgment in exercising its authority over NOAA,” the inspector general report said

The report also criticized Roberts for deleting text messages, which is contrary to government document retention rules.

In a statement attached to the report, Walsh said the report’s conclusions “are completely unsupported by any of the evidence or factual findings that the report lays out. The Inspector General instead selectively quotes from interviews, takes facts out of context.”

The White House declined comment. The Department of Commerce attached a letter to the report saying the report doesn’t dispute the accuracy of the Sept. 6 statement that criticized the Birmingham office nor does it find that the agency suppressed scientific communication.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said she could not support Jacobs’ nomination to be the full-time, no longer acting, chief of NOAA, saying the report shows Jacobs “failed to protect scientists from political influence.”

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